Monday, February 07, 2005

Back from NLII

The NLII meeting in New Orleans was worthwhile and rewarding - and New Orleans is quite the place to be, even the week before Mardi Gras! Mark and I ended up staying right in the French Quarter and were quite unprepared for the level of revelry that takes place in the week preceeding the official Mardi Gras celebration. A pleasant surprise. The streets were filled all night with very loud and boisterous revelment (pardonnez mon fran├žais faible). Still, we were able to adequately rest up for the preconference Croquet presentation the next morning. ;)

At the preconference session, we met some key people in the higher education IT world. The response to Croquet was very positive, and we've now been invited to attend the Emerging Practices and Learning Technologies in Higher Education NLII Focus Session at Rice University on Mar 8-9, 2005 whose attendees will be exploring strategies for anticipating, evaluating and incorporating new and emerging information technologies on their campuses. This should provide valuable insights into how we might best approach the issues around deploying Croquet in higher education settings.

I am particularly gratified to read a Croquet-related blog posting from one of the attendees at the NLII preconference session. It appeared here. Here is an excerpt:

"...I don’t think I’ll ever need to eat again.

But I should really speak to the NLII annual meeting, and not just to the New Orleans milieu, although, well, whew, what a town. Appetite city.

As wonderful as the food has been, though, the intellectual feast has already topped it. The session on Croquet yesterday morning left me rubbing my eyes in near-disbelief as I witnessed a demonstration of a 3D recursive meta-environment in which people, places, and things can be placed in rich contexts that are themselves meaningful creations, often collaborative creations. I saw a landscape in which one could carry around a 3D “snapshot” of a space that was dynamically updated even as one carried it around. In short, I saw a model of individual cognition externalized, cognition networked with other minds in a social context that was compelling, fun, piquant, and a little mysterious. Imagine a Magritte painting that first becomes “real,” and then becomes a prompt that asks students to reconceive their own conceptual work in a course–together. It’s very difficult to explain, but once you see it in action, impossible to forget. I’ll never be satisfied with the desktop metaphor for computing again.

I do believe that Croquet is a way to bootstrap the Secret Society for Real School into the next key stage of its development. The first stage, an increasing dissatisfaction with a status quo in which education scales by means of an industrial model, is already upon us. That stage will end, I think, with some kind of popular revolt in which traditional schooling (traditional in the sense of what we’ve had for the last 100 years, not in the sense of, say, the Platonic Academy) will face crippling competition with other more compelling and convenient providers. I hope before we get to the end of that stage that the social and expertise contexts of real school will be freed from deadening 50-75 minute periods to explore its real potential as an ongoing conference devoted to, as Jerome Bruner put it, raising consciousness about the possibilities of communal mental experience. Subject areas, specific knowledge, even quizzes will still be part of the experience. But as with a good conference, the narrative that threads through the individual courses will continually inspire fresh perspectives–and a powerful sense of shared mission. A sense, finally, of occasion. Which brings Croquet back into the picture: the sense of occasion provided by that 3d object-oriented landscape, both dreamy and a little edgy, makes explicit the mental landscape we want our students to inhabit and, at last, build with us.